Review: Mistborn, by Brandon Sanderson

I highly recommend Mistborn to any young/adult who is looking for an enjoyable, detailed, but serious fantasy with an incredibly unique and exciting hard magic system. You won’t want to put it down and wish you were an Allomancer so you could keep your body awake to read all 672 pages of it. Seriously…read it.

Front cover of Mistborn, by Brandon Sanderson

Introduction

Allow me to start off by disclaiming that I am by no means an author, or knowledgeable about writing, written works, or anything of the sort. I’m just some guy. And I enjoy reading.

Long have I enjoyed not only reading, but reading fantasy. There’s just something to diving into the pages of an author’s mind and becoming completely absorbed by the world they’ve created that is difficult to resist.

Sadly, the past six or so years have held a cacophony of events which have limited my time and drive to read. The group of people with which I choose to spend/invest my limited leisure time all love to read. For some time, our casual musings included not the most recent reading adventures; as of late, however, a frequent topic amongst friends became the works of Brandon Sanderson. The name kept popping up in casual conversation as my friends and associates continued to read his works with a fierce passion–nearly an addiction.

Beyond the fact that I’ve always had a Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) and felt I was missing out on the conversations surrounding Sanderson’s creations, the incessant conversation about his many works eventually brought me to ask a close friend, Preston, about the author’s works and where I might dip my toes in–so to speak–and make my return to reading fantasy.

Mistborn,” came his recommendation. He said it is a great place to try out Sanderson’s writings. If you like it, you can read the rest of the trilogy, and if not, Mistborn stands up on its own as a great book.

Some days shortly thereafter, while on a vacation visting my family in Idaho, I stopped at a Barnes & Noble with my wife, Alexis; the short visit to the store resulted in my purchase of the Mistborn trilogy and the beginnings of my expedition into Sanderson’s works of epic fantasy. And epic, it was.

Setting

The Final Empire…it’s dark. It’s bleak. It’d almost be apocalyptic if it weren’t for the structured society dragging its feet through existence. Ash constantly falls from the sky. Buildings, roads, and people blacked by soot. Skaa slave in the fields, in the mills, and in the forges. It’s not happy, yet it draws you in and makes a reader want to know more about why that world is the way that it is.

Map of The Final Empire (1021) from Mistborn, by Brandon Sanderson

Mistborn takes place in the Central Dominance, between the cities of Luthadel and Fellise. The map of the Final Empire is quite more expansive than that, though I presume we read of much more of the map in the succeeding two books in the trilogy.

Character Development

The core group of characters is likable and generally introduced. The two foremost characters–Vin and Kelsier–have the most development, rivaled only by a man named Sazed. Vin is a 16 year old female thief with a difficult past that can make readers a tad emotional. Kelsier is a mysterious male some years older with both a hero complex and a knack for causing trouble. They’re a great pair. Sazed is also some years older, and arguably more mysterious than Kelsier, though we do get some decent looks into his past. To avoid giving too much of the tale away, I’ll just say this: the rest of the core group receives some shallow explanation, but we get only small hints into their characters, with no extensive backstory. It works quite well though; at no point did I feel the character development was detrimentally lacking.

Pacing

The pacing of the book was nice, in my opinion. There’s always the sense that there is a direction that the story is heading, and that there is a purpose for what you’re reading. While the whole book isn’t action-packed, or lots of huge events, there is value and enjoyment in the small details and thorough explanations of settings, events, and preparations of the characters. At no point did I feel like I was reading filler, that things were moving too slowly, or that things were moving too quickly. The combat scenes are described in high detail, but maintain a sense of rapid pace during the scene. Some friends who have read the book said they felt it was a slow start, but as someone who enjoys the mundane, I felt the pacing to be perfect.

Style

For Mistborn, Sanderson seems to adopt a descriptive/narrative writing style. It works quite well. An epic fantasy is sure to be a narrative, else it would not be entertaining to a reader. But beyond telling a story, the depth and amount of detail that Sanderson provides in his writing is thorough, vivid, and allows the reader to easily paint the scene and happenings in their head as they read. Not only is the narrative entertaining, but the detail is enjoyable. Despite having not read a book for some years, I was easily able to picture the setting, scenes, characters and their personalities, and the events of the story. In short, I’d liken the style to that of Tolkien, though with a less “stiff,” feel to the writing, if that makes sense. It’s ever so slightly less wordy and with far fewer commas in each sentence.

Point-of-View

The reader reads Mistborn primarily from the point of view of Vin and Kelsier, who both have distinctive voices and styles of speaking and thinking. One chapter may be from Vin’s viewpoint, while the next one may be from Kell’s (Kelsier’s). Or you may get both at the same time from 3rd person. The mix of viewpoints is nice and keeps things interesting–unlike some books where Chapter 1 is from Character A’s point of view and Chapter 2 is from Character B’s point of view and that pattern just repeats for 500 pages.

Theme

Overall there is a theme of the possibility of evil succeeding. In fact, the amount of hope there is for the main characters’ success and salvation is small and weak. It’s desperate. But the hope that exists carries over to the reader. You become invested in what the characters are doing and want so badly for them to succeed.

I want to make special note that Sanderson really developed various aspects of The Final Empire. There are religious, political, social, economic, moral, and a variety of other issues and facets to the story that really make it feel comprehensive and almost real.

Bringing it all Together

I started Mistborn on the first day of my six day vacation. I’d read for an hour or two a day, and by the end of the vacation, I had made it to Part 5 of the book. Generally, I read rather quickly, so take that statement with a grain of salt–or an entire saltshaker, should you prefer to do so. In those six days, I hated having to put the book down. I could have sat and read that book all day if I hadn’t had other things I needed and wanted to do during my limited days away from normal life. When I finished the book, all I wanted was more. I needed more. Luckily, there are the two succeeding books in the trilogy; it is my understanding that they take place in the same setting–The Final Empire–so it is my hope that I’ll “get my fix” there.

Overall, I highly recommend Mistborn to any young/adult who is looking for an enjoyable, detailed, but serious fantasy with an incredibly unique and exciting hard magic system. You won’t want to put it down and wish you were an Allomancer so you could keep your body awake to read all 672 pages of it. Seriously…read it.

Have you read Mistborn or any of Sanderson’s other works? What are your thoughts? You know I’d love to read them below in the comments. Until next time!


Additional Reading & Resources

Buy Mistborn, by Brandon Sanderson (non-affiliate, non-sponsored link)

Buy Mistborn Trilogy, by Brandon Sanderson (non-affiliate, non-sponsored link)

Map of The Final Empire from 17thShard

Author: griffethbarker

Griff is a manager of IT, consultant of IT and management, and continuous student of organizational development. His hobbies and interests include games of all types (video, board, dice, card, tabletop, etc.) as well as listening to music, photography, and writing. Find him on LinkedIn!

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